Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Are you doing your part? 5 resolutions for better 2016 panel discussions

I can't count high enough to tell you how many of my clients are swearing off panels--either not participating as speakers, or, if they are conference organizers, looking for alternatives. The breakdown of the panel discussion can be seen whenever one runs too long, veers off topic, fails to leave time for audience questions, or generally underwhelms by avoiding strong opinion or controversy. Audiences, organizers, speakers, and especially moderators are not satisfied. But are you doing your part to make them better?

Before you answer, consider this: Putting more effort into your panels, no matter what your role in them may be, can turn around bad results like speakers who won't contribute next time or talk too much this time, negative audience evaluations, and over time, poor attendance and lower revenue for your conference.If you've been disappointed in the panels you've contributed to or organized, it's time for a change. For 2016, let's all resolve to:
  1. Manage panels to a consistent standard: Organizers, this one's for you (although moderators and even speakers can advocate for this one). Instead of assuming everyone knows how and what you want, share a consistent set of expectations. Interview speakers and moderators with your expectations list in hand, and only sign up those who agree. Then check in to make sure your expectations will be met, and include those guidelines in your evaluation questions.
  2. Invest in better preparation: Moderators should shine here, having early and late-in-the-process calls with panelists to manage expectations, content, and how Q&A will be handled. 
  3. Establish a "no slides for panels" policy: There's no better way to encourage sparkling discussion and stay on time. Organizers, moderators, and speakers need to take this vow--and if you do, you can expect the audience to thank you.
  4. Allow 50% of the allotted time for questions from the audience: As a speaker coach and as an audience member, I'm horrified at the number of speakers I encounter who assume they can leave as little as 5 minutes out of 60 for questions--or run overtime, taking up all the time allotted with no questions possible. It's the easiest fix to make to improve your conference's evaluations, and to improve the discussion in any panel.
  5. Manage to a strict "on time and on topic" measure: Moderators play the key role here in real time, but organizers and speakers can do their part to keep this resolution alive. Again, audiences will thank you.
If you want to improve panel discussions, give your organizers, speakers, and moderators The Eloquent Woman's Guide to Moderating Panels. At just $3.99 and available in many formats, it's a great back-pocket coach to help you achieve all of these resolutions, with detailed tips, ideas, examples, and instructions for advance preparation as well as real-time management of a panel in progress. Find more tips on public speaking on The Eloquent Woman blog.

(Creative Commons licensed photo by International Transport Forum)